According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is among the leading causes of death in the US, with roughly 45,000 Americans dying of suicide every year. It is estimated that for every person who attempts or dies by suicide, countless others have seriously thought about it but have not acted on those thoughts.
While anyone can experience negative thoughts from time to time, suicidal ideations are different in that they involve an unhealthy preoccupation with death or self-harm. Suicidal ideations can range from fleeting thoughts about death to actively thinking about ways to harm or kill oneself or having concrete plans and preparations for suicide.
Although suicidal ideations don’t always lead to suicide or attempted suicide, they are a warning sign that someone is in danger of harming themselves and needs immediate help.
What Causes Suicidal Ideations?
There is no single answer to this question as there are a lot of potential triggering factors for suicidal ideations. Some common causes include:
- Mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Substance abuse problems
- A history of trauma or abuse
- Chronic pain, terminal illness, or severe disability
- Economic hardship
- Isolation and loneliness
- Major life events like the loss of a job, ending of a relationship, or death of a loved one
It’s also important to note that people who have attempted suicide in the past are at an increased risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts or attempting suicide.
Signs of Suicidal Ideations
Suicidal ideation is one of the most common precursors of suicide, and knowing the warning signs and symptoms can help save a life. If someone you know is showing any of the following signs, it’s essential to seek professional help as soon as possible:
- Talking about wanting to die or hurt oneself
- Increasing drug or alcohol use
- Becoming withdrawn and isolated
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness
- Having abnormal mood swings
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
- Researching methods of suicide or talking about death a lot
- Giving away prized possessions or getting affairs in order (e.g., organizing finances, writing a will)
- Acquiring the means to commit suicide (e.g., buying a gun, stockpiling pills)
- Engaging in reckless behaviors (e.g., driving under the influence)
Treatment for Suicidal Ideations
Treatment for suicidal ideations typically starts with a mental health evaluation to rule out any underlying mental health conditions. If a mental health condition is diagnosed – treatment will focus on managing the underlying condition and helping you cope with the symptoms. This can be achieved through medication, talk therapy, or a combination of both.
If there is no underlying mental health condition, treatment will focus on helping you deal with any stressors or triggers that may be causing your suicidal thoughts and develop positive coping mechanisms to prevent future suicidal thoughts and behavior.
Self-care is also a vital part of treatment for suicidal ideations. Taking care of oneself physically, mentally, and emotionally can help reduce stress and improve overall mood and well-being. Some self-care tips that may be helpful include:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Getting regular exercise
- Getting enough sleep
- Practicing relaxation techniques
- Limiting alcohol and drug use
- Avoiding triggers (e.g., if social media is a trigger, stay off of it)
- Spending time with supportive people
If you think someone is in immediate danger of harming themselves, call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or 911 for immediate assistance.
The Bottom Line
Suicide is a major public health concern, and any warning signs should not be taken lightly. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal ideations, it’s crucial to seek professional help right away. With proper treatment, suicidal ideations can be managed or prevented.